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renounced. In the foregoing part of the epistle, this subject is treated at large : and, in the words which we have read, there is a kind of recapitulation of it, purposely introduced, in order to confirm the Hebrews in a steady adherence to the faith which they had embraced, and to shew them the dreadful danger of departing from it.
Hence, in elucidating this passage, we shall have occasion to shew, 1. The transcendent excellence of the Christian dis
pensationThe circumstances which took place at the giving of the law, are all particularly and distinctly referred to*: and they exhibit in very striking characters the nature of the law itself. The law was never given in order that the people might rest in it, or expect life from it; but that they might be made to know and feel their need of that better covenant which God would make with them under the Gospel dispensation. Instead of bringing men to God, it kept them at the greatest distance from him, not a soul being suffered to touch the mount on which he revealed himself, nor so much as a beast touching it without having instant death inflicted on him. Instead of producing any thing like filial love and confidence, it inspired only fear and terror, and, as the Apostle says, “gendered to bondageb." Even Moses himself said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” Instead of offering life to any one, it was altogether “a ministration of condemnation and death."
Now, says the Apostle, ye who have received the Gospel are not come to such a dispensation as that ;
ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to feara." but ye are come, 1. To a better place
[Mount Sinai differed not from any other mount: it might be seen and touched like any other place. But not so the " they
a Compare ver. 18—21. with Exod. xix. 14–25. b Gal. iy. 24. c 2 Cor. iii. 7, 9. d Rom. viii. 15.
mount to which those who believe in Christ are come: are come to Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," a place not visible to mortal eyes, nor like to any place which mortal hands have formed: it is a place formed by Almighty God for his own immediate residence, and for the fullest manifestations of his glory.] 2. To a nobler society
[Angels indeed were present at the giving of the law: but the Jews had no communion with them: they were only God's agents for augmenting the terror of the scene. Their whole tribes too were there convened: but it was only that they might all be filled with the same dread of God's wrath, and be made to unite in that urgent request, that God would speak to them no more by an audible voice, but only through Moses as a mediator'. But those who believe in Christ are come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant." Yes, the glorified saints and angels all belong to the same blessed assembly to which believers are now called: and “God, even as a Judge,” is no longer to them an object of dread, because they know that he at the same time is their Father: and they have “ Jesus as their Mediator” with him; and “ the new covenant” as the rule according to which they shall be dealt with by him. Here all is no longer fear and terror, but peace and joy.] 3. To far more exalted privileges
[Moses, the morning after the giving of the law, offered burnt-offerings; with the blood of which he sprinkled both the book of the covenant which had been made with the people, and the people themselves, saying, “ Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." But what did this covenant avail them? The very blood with which it was ratified served only to testify against them as violating their own engagements, and making void every promise contained in it. But the blood of sprinkling to which the Christian is come, effectually removes from him all his sin, and prevails for his perfect reconciliation with God. The blood which Abel offered in sacrifice, received a visible and most honourable token of God's acceptance of it": but, however blessed that external testimony was, it was not worthy to be compared with that internal “ witness of the Spirit,” with which believers in Christ are sealed; which assures them of their adoption into God's family, and their everlasting fruition of his glory: it seals them, not for a time only, but unto the day of redemption; and is to them, not a seal only, but a pledge and earnest and foretaste of heaven itselfi. The very same eternal love which “ elects them to obedience," elects them also to this “ sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christk."]
e Acts vii. 53. with Ps, lxviii. 17. 8 Exod. xxiv, 4-8.
f Deut. v. 22-28. h Heb. xi. 4.
The Apostle, however, not content with exhibiting thus the transcendent excellence of Christianity, proceeds to point out, II. The indispensable necessity of paying to it the
attention it requires The warning which he gives to the Hebrews is most solemn; “ See that ye refuse not him that speaketh :" and the argument with which he enforces it is most awful; “ for, if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” Hear then the warning
(Look into the history of the Hebrews: see what became of those who refused obedience to the Sinai covenant: they perished; even that whole nation perished, (of those at least who had attained the age of full maturity,) with the exception of two. For one single transgression of it was Moses himself excluded from the earthly Canaan'. The extreme severity of the law against any wilful and presumptuous violation of its commands, is again and again held forth as a warning to us under the Gospel dispensation, and particularly in the epistle before us: “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation m?” So again; “ He that despised Moses' law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace"?” Well may
such warnings as these sink down into our ears, and make us tremble at the thought of disobedience to the Gospel covenant!
i Eph. i. 13, 14. k 1 Pet. i. 2. 1 Deut. xxxii. 50, 51. m Heb. ii. 2, 3. n Heb. x. 28, 29.
Acknowledge also the justice of it
[Think how the Christian covenant has been delivered: not by a terrific voice, uttered from a cloud by a Being that was invisible, but by the Lord Jesus Christ himself descending from the highest heavens to make it known to us in the mild accents of love and mercy. Think too of its contents. To what does it call us, but to a conformity with the holy angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect? It brings us into favour with God, precisely as they are.
It invites us to begin their employments now, and even on earth to participate their bliss. It makes every provision for the end: it offers pardon, and peace, and righteousness, and glory, to all who by faith will lay hold upon it. Say then, what do not they deserve who refuse to listen to invitations like these? Verily, we cannot but acknowledge, that, if the judgments denounced against the disobedient Israelites were just, much more must the heaviest judgments that can ever be inflicted upon us be just, if we refuse to listen to Him who speaks to us with such astonishing condescension and grace.]
We must not omit to notice, that the Apostle here takes for granted, respecting every true Christian, that he is thus come to Mount Sion. Permit me then, in conCLUSION, 1. To make this a matter of inquiry
[Have you indeed come thus to Mount Sion? Have you turned your backs on Mount Sinai, from a deep conviction that you are condemned by the law, and have no hope at all but from the gracious provisions of the Gospel? Have you obtained an insight into the nature of true religion, as consisting in a communion with God and with the heavenly hosts, and an actual participation of the mind, the spirit, the blessedness of heaven? Ah! how rarely is Christianity viewed in this light! It is regarded rather as a mere system of restraints enforced with terror, than as an earnest and antepast of the heavenly bliss! I pray you, not to imagine that you have ever yet set
out aright, if you have not thus passed from Mount Sinai unto Sion, and from Moses unto Christ.]
2. To address you under the supposition which is here made
[I will suppose, that "you are come unto Mount Sion.” Yet much would I guard you, as the Apostle did the Hebrews, against yielding to any species of temptation that may deprive you of the blessings to which, according to your Christian profession, you are entitled. It is no uncommon thing for persons to make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, even after they have for some time maintained, in appearance at least, an upright walk and conversation. But beware lest ye be in any wise hindered in running the race that is set before you: difficulties ye must meet with, both within and without: and it is well that you do meet with them; for how else shall your fidelity to God be tried? But ask yourselves, what any of the holy angels would do if they were in your place ? or what any of the spirits of the just that are now made perfect would reply to those who should either by menaces or allurements attempt to turn them from God? You cannot doubt. Be ye then like them, to whose society you are brought, and with whom you are to dwell through everlasting ages: and as ye are already come to the very gate of heaven, see that “ an entrance into it be ministered unto you abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord."]
ABEL'S SACRIFICE AND CHRIST'S COMPARED. Heb. xii. 22, 24. Ye are come .....
to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. AS the Christian dispensation differs widely from that of Moses as to the manner in which it was promulgated, so does it most essentially differ with respect to the spirit and temper which it is calculated to produce in the minds of men. The terrors of Mount Sinai were suited to impress the Jews with a servile fear; as their whole system of rites and ceremonies was, to keep them under bondage. But the mild genius of the Gospel introduces us at once to peace and liberty. In the passage before us the Apostle exemplifies this remark in many particulars ; the last of which demands our attention at this time. We propose to shew, I. The efficacy of Abel's blood
By “the blood of Abel” we are not to understand his own blood, but the blood of his sacrifice
[The generality of commentators indeed explain this as relating to Abel's blood, which cried for vengeance against his murderous brother. But to commend the blood of Christ
a Gen. iv, 10.